Monday, March 7, 2016

22. TINY HABITS

New Year’s Day: We recover from our late night/early morning celebrations -- sleep in, eat sporadically, lounge around…all in anticipation of the return to routine after the holidays.  And for many it’s the first day of new resolutions.  
I’ve learned, after years of failure, to avoid New Year’s Resolutions.  It’s just so hard on my ego.  Goals are a serious problem for me. 
When the bishop in my ward, which is similar to a pastor or priest in a church congregation, asked me to serve as the president of our Young Women’s youth organization, I made a confession right off.  I thought this might make him reconsider.
“I am not converted to the Personal Progress program.” I said, lowering my head in a semblance of shame.  The Personal Progress program for our Young Women is a series of goals the girls set, which in general help them achieve a higher level of living.  They include spiritual, intellectual, and physical goals in varying categories.  My problem with the program is that not all people do well with goal setting.  Something in the setting of goals turns them off, sets them up for failure, and worst of all, makes them feel like they don’t belong. I am one of these, and I fear I am not alone.  I worry that the teenage girls in our church community who are not among those achievement oriented ones, would feel like they don’t “fit in” in the community of God’s children.  My very wise bishop responded…
“Can you love the girls?” 
“Yes. Yes, I can!”
And so began three wonderful years of loving the teenage girls who share my faith; some of whom share my weaknesses as well.

I have two basic problems with goal setting. One comes with belonging to a community of people trying to improve.  I’ve been in a number of these groups.  Weight Watchers, for instance. And church. The good that comes from these communities far outweighs the bad (pardon the pun) but there is a tendency among those who are leaders/encouragers to tell us how to improve, and in so doing, suggest we set goals they think are good for us. And they may be 100% correct, but the rebel in me does not want to be told what to do!  In other words, my problem is not with the goals, but the fact that some goals are not my own. They’re someone else’s, and they feel forced upon me.  I believe our own inspiration should direct our goals.  I’m pretty sure that if the Holy Ghost is not the inspiration behind my goals, I am bound to fail.

The other problem I have is that some of the goals I set, when I do set them, are just plain too big.

So I have considered myself a GOAL FAILURE.  (By the way, I’m really quite good at projects. I’m just not the best a developing good habits…and the goals I’m talking about here are behavioral).

Then, last year, I watched a TED Talk by a fellow named BJ Fogg, PH.D , who is Director of Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University. His talk was called TINY HABITS.  In the most simple terms, he suggested that the way to effect change is to make progress one tiny habit at a time.  He discovered that the most effective strategy for developing new habits is to make them small, doable, and attach them to other things that we regularly do every day.  For instance, he wanted to increase his strength, so he started doing one push up every time he went to the bathroom. The gist of it was that he attached a very small new behavior to another behavior he regularly performed.  Afterwards he “celebrated” by basically telling himself he was awesome for doing it. The  key factors were these:
1.   The new behavior was tiny, took very little time to perform, and was achievable without much effort
2.   The new habit was triggered by an old habit which is regularly performed
3.   There was a tiny celebration after the new habit was performed (Awesome!)

I gave it a go. I had wanted to make myself more mindful in my daily living, but wasn’t sure how.  So, with the guidance of my own personal inspiration (i.e. the Holy Ghost) I decided that every day, after I washed my face, I would stand at my bathroom window and take 5 deep breaths. After my morning shower, after I splash toner on my face, I walk over to the big plate glass window that looks out over the hollow in our back yard, and I breathe deeply five times.  I remind myself to see the beauty that surrounds me.  I do not require myself to repeat any mantra, or to be grateful for five different things, or to recite a scripture; though each of those things entered my mind as I began this practice over a year ago.  I simply require myself to inhale and exhale deeply – 5 times. It’s been a beautiful exercise, and I’m pretty good at it now.  In fact, every time I smell the toner I use on my skin, I automatically breathe slower and deeper.  In the process I have become more aware, more grateful, and more calm as I approach each day.
The side consequence that I had not expected when I started this tiny habit was the feeling of accomplishment that came with actually sticking with something long term.  It’s so against my nature…unless it’s a bad habit. I’m pretty good at sticking with bad habits.

My HOPE is that, like the good Lord suggested when He said “Line upon line; precept upon precept”, we allow ourselves to make progress one baby step at a time. Triggered by things we are already doing, let’s make something more of ourselves.


See BJ Fogg’s TED talk HERE.


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During the season of Lent I make the personal commitment to write every day.  I’ve done this for the past eight years, as a token of devotion and thanks to the Lord for giving me a brain that works (usually). I publish these writings here on my blog, unedited and splattered like wet paint, as a way to share them and to keep them for myself and for my posterity.  This year I have decided to ruminate on thoughts, ideas, habits and miscellaneous personal practices I would like to put in a figurative HOPE CHEST to take with me into the rest of my life and the life beyond. Besides that, there are bits of advice I would like to tuck into the HOPE CHESTS of my kids and grandkids.

2 comments:

  1. I'm not a "goals" person either. Sometimes I feel that if I set a goal that's to specific, it may prevent me from being flexible enough to respond to life's fluctuations. In a weird way, not having a lot of goals has allowed me to make something of myself in whatever circumstances...on the other hand I do tend feel directionless at times. I guess there's good and bad to all personality types :)

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  2. ooooo...I'm gonna look up his TED talk. I love that you are doing that "little" thing each day. A sweet moment of connection. I tend to ask for help above to be more flexible so that I never miss an opportunity because of a list. It's a process, but adds so much depth to my life. I am ever grateful.

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